One Square Mile Of Hell: The Battle For Tarawa __EXCLUSIVE__
It's the end of a story that began more than 70 years ago on "one square mile of hell." That's how Marines who stormed the small, remote Pacific island chain of Tarawa on Nov. 20, 1943 described the atoll.
One Square Mile of Hell: The Battle for Tarawa
CORCORAN: I thought, I kind of hoped they had got knocked out before they hit thewater. They went off the side of the bridge and then the tank ended up upsidedown. And I am thinking, man, that would be a hell of a way to go. And Iremember we ended up securing that bridge because we didn't want anyone comingacross and blowing those bridges. We needed those bridges. I remember getting,that is when we got up real close and personal with a lot of Iraqis that had touse that bridge with their vehicles. And I remember there was a couple huts oneither side of this foot bridge. One of them got bull dozed down. The other one01:10:00we had to look inside. It was like a candy store. Yeah, stuff like that. Therewere some Bedouins nearby and we ended up giving the kids the pop and the candy.They didn't really come close enough for me to touch. They would come closeenough to grab what they wanted, and then they took off. Everybody was scared. Idon't know if they were abused by Iraqis, or scared by us. Who knows? You know.I got some pictures of that. We ended up giving them as much food as we could,our MREs. And then we started to resent them, after a while. Because somethingthat was going on with the battles, I remember that. A lot of the trickery thatwas going on. Got to the point where it was the thought that, if they lookedbetween the ages of sixteen and sixty, don't ask questions. Just shoot, becausethey'd shoot you on the street, anyway. Especially during the battle of AnNasiriyah, because what was happening, a lot of them would sit up on the01:11:00balconies, and when you walked by, they would have an AK down there, and they'dshoot at you. And they would put the AK away. Or they had mortars that you couldwatch. I had a buddy of mine say, his FO couldn't see in his binos. Well, whatwas happening, people would walk by and pick up a mortar shell, and walk by thetube as if they were walking, and drop it in the tube and keep walking. It wasthat kind of stuff that was going on. Just confusing stuff. Clothes, uniforms,even after the battle, you could tell, a lot of young men with short cut hair,no boots or shoes on, or they cut the boots down to look like shoes. We ended uptrying to stop a lot of them. As much as possible. We ended up doing thatbridge, the bridge operation. That lasted a couple of days. The CBs came in. Ithink they had to repair the damage, and damage control the bridge. They endedup relieving us in place and we ended up moving on to a place called Al-Kut. We01:12:00were chasing down this Iraqi armored division. They were probably now at aboutforty-five, fifty percent of strength with what air power had taken down. But weended up chasing them almost to Iran. I think we were fifteen miles outside ofIran. Fifteen or twenty miles. We ended up staging, they had a lot of armor,too. They were pretty powerful and we weren't sure what they were going to do.The whole task force didn't go after them. Only a select group. One artilleryunit and then a bunch of, you know, some infantry, LADs - Light Armored Vehicles- and they ended up stopping. So we stopped, and dug in. But I dug in deep thatnight. I knew they had stuff that could range us, too. I remember digging inreal deep. I dug in so deep it was above my head. I had to put a step in thereto get out. And I didn't know. And the next morning they were still sitting inplace. So they sent out some LADs to find out what was going on. It was prettyfunny because you could hear the engagement. You know, you could hear the LADs01:13:00shooting with their twenty millimeter cannon, dip-dip-dip. You know, and anexplosions. And hear the radio conference. "What is going on? Some of thevehicles are abandoned. Locals said the Iraqis were here yesterday. Whatever.And they took off, and left the vehicles out here." "What is going on? Ah, theboys, they are just having a little bit of fun, sir. Cut that shit out!" Youknow. That was a good ice-breaker, you know. Just going out there and doingthose things, shooting up the vehicles. I know going through a lot of that,whoever got a chance out there, pictures, or anything of Saddam, they wouldshoot. Paintings, they'd end up shooting. Murals. There was a lot of that shitall over the country. We ended up getting digs in and shooting the stuff up.The, as Al-Kut, we were pretty concerned with that, being sent out there, not afull force. Seemed to be after that, things started to slow down a little bit01:14:00for us. We weren't really running into as much, every so often we would havesome issue. Someone setting up a mortar somewhere, and we'd take them out. Aftera while, it got to a point where you were engaged in too much combat that youwere actually looking for combat. And if we were in a town, we would actuallyhang our weapons outside the vehicle, you know, like we were driving through thecity. A lot of people would come up to greet us, piling into the streets. Waveto us like we were the victors. Like we were their saviors. It was really kindof an eerie thing. After a while, you felt like you didn't want to hang yourweapon out because somebody might try to pull it. And as weird as that sounds,the things that kind of go through your head, we weren't going around pointingweapons at people. At children, or anything. But you were hoping that some ofthem would show their true colors. You know, something like that. I don't thinkwe really believed that it was over. You know, at that point in time. There was01:15:00fun times there, too. They had a lot of women. Women didn't really get a lot,wearing the veil. So we would always go by and get their attention, and wave andwhistle. And they would kind of cover up the face, sort of laugh, however theydid. Like a proper woman from Japan, you know, didn't really look at you. Kindof bowed down. That is kind of, well, that is what it was like. You know. Andthey had really beautiful eyes. It seemed like the Iraqis were really big intoeyes. You know, whenever you would see a painting or see a bus and there wouldbe an eye painted on it. Seeing those eyes was really weird. You know, you'dwave. And we'd pull over after going through the city, and talking, "Did you seethat woman, she was eye-balling us." Really beautiful, green emerald eyes. Someof them you really couldn't really tell. Their faces would be covered up. Youcould tell there was a lot of wear. Maybe just from abuse and the sun, or thattheir lives were. And their feet, and the kids running around. Washing in the01:16:00streams. And they had water buffalo. I am thinking, it that a water buffalo.Vietnam water buffalos, but not Iraq. But, sure enough, water buffalos. Kidsriding on the back of donkeys. And you know, bare foot. We tried to hand out asmuch food as we could but then it got to the point where some bad things werestill happening and, you know, you do as you might. We did. We really went overthere with the best intentions, you know. Do all this, look back down, and thinkthat is why we went over there with the right reasons. Well, maybe not. Did wehave good intentions? I think we did. But we knew we were over there and we knewwe were doing good, because you see how the people were living. And it is justhorrible. And you knew going into the cities who had power, who was part of theparty and who wasn't. Because the way they lived. You know, people have livedlike peasants like, literally, with string light wiring that they could hooktogether, and that is how they would hook up the power to their house. And it isliterally like spliced pieces of wire. A piece of copper here and a piece of01:17:00something else there, and another piece of copper, spliced together, for powerto the house. And it was just, odd, you know. And how they lived in their homes.And then you get in to see like the Baath Party headquarters, some that we wouldtake out, and you would see how those people lived, too. And it was high on thehog. And there was no middle. It was like one way or the other. After Al-Kut, wewere told to hold the rear. Bagdad didn't turn out to be the big battle of thatoperation. It turned out to be Alnazerea. Bagdad was a big deal because we endedup taking the capital, but I remember looking back on that. And they wanted usto stay back, and I felt that we kind of got cheated. We were there, but I thinkthat we were like the bastard step-child, you know.
HA: Not really, because I was giving them the straight dope and having gone through the infantry school, in their own school, I knew my stuff plus the fact, at Rutgers the ROTC, it was all taught during my time by infantry officers that had been in World War I. So, I was well grounded in things that, on a company level, what the infantry does. I mean, I wasn't about to be telling them how to run a battalion, or anything, but, I knew what how the battalion ran companies and the companies ran platoons. As an aside to show that they really did, I guess, respect what I was doing is, that our weekends started noon time on Saturdays. We'd rent a taxi, get to DC, get on the train and take off for New York or New Jersey, and this class had graduated that Saturday and they were all on the train and in those days, I guess, drinking was more popular than it is now and I happened to be on the train, too, and they all came up offered me a drink and told me how they enjoyed what the hell I was doing, which was basically the rifle platoon in attack, the rifle platoon in defense and attack of a fortified position. Now, that was where, on one week I would build a bunker, like the Japs had on Tarawa, and the following week I'd run the program to blow it up, and we fired machine guns at it and a flame-thrower, and finally, the demolition charge and I nominated myself to be the one to carry the demolition charge and I would cut the fuse shorter and shorter, because you're rather foolish at that age, and that was the grand finale. Because the toss of that demolition charge was, I don't know, a couple of pounds. Properly packaged, it was off the things that they supplied, and it would really blow the thing up and you had to get out of the way of the pieces of logs and stuff, too. I could move a lot faster than I do now, obviously. I forgot to mention that the Marine Corps sent me to Fort Belvoir to learn about demolitions, mines, and booby traps. Because at that time, more than now, in the Marine Corps you were expected to be competent in all of the arms and services. You couldn't be very parochial about just one. Then the other problems I would run would be enemy details. When the students were running a problem attacking, I'd have Marine enlisted men that I would have be the enemy and have them fall back and do the things that the students could expect the enemy to be doing. I enjoyed that work because I had a lot of freedom, probably more than a second lieutenant today would have, far more because of communications, if nothing else, because of the improvement in communications. Then when I left Quantico, I was ordered to sea school. That was in San Diego, and while waiting for orders, I spent a short time in the recruit depot, as being in charge of something, or other, I forget exactly what it was, ... that was not something that appealed to me and then some time with the MPs where every night you had to count the prisoners. That's when they lined them up, locked step with their elbows crossed, and the individual in front, his neck was right there pushed together. That was on the watch list. You didn't do that every night, somebody else did it. When it came around to your turn, you do it. Then from there our detachment was formed. The other officer, myself and the forty-one Marines, we had a Pullman car, actually two Pullman cars all to ourselves with the stewards and everything that were on it normally to go across country to Philadelphia Navy Yard where the Fall River was going through the final work stages before it was commissioned. So we lived off the base, the other officer and myself, the captain, we lived off the base. The Marines were put up in Marine barracks in Philadelphia and that lasted for about a month. Then the ship was commissioned, we took off for Cuba on a shakedown cruise, where they tested the ship to go at its flank speed, the fastest it would go. They learned how to fire the planes off the catapults, which was more of a no-brainer than recovering them. Because in the recovery of the plane, they had to throw a landing net over the fantail of the ship after the ship had made a circle to smooth the water out, then they'd throw this landing mat. The plane would land in this supposedly smooth water and the pilot would gun the engine to make it jump up onto the landing mat, then he'd hook up, the derrick was over top of it, hook it up to the top of the plane and lift him up. Then, at Viegas, [Puerto Rico], when they're having all the arguments about now, we would fire the eight inch guns at different ranges and they'd also tow sleeves for the five-inch 38s to fire at the forty-millimeter and the twenty-millimeter, so it would get the whole thing, because the ammunition comes up from the various holds where it's stored, and has to get up to where it's used, not too soon, but not too late. Then from the social side, now all the Marines at their clubs known as "slop chutes" had been drinking 3.5 [percent alcohol] beer. They get to Cuba where they have the Cuban beer, which is about ten percent alcohol, and so the liberty parties coming back to the ship sometimes were in pretty rough shape. Then they decided, the powers that be, probably the Exec of the ship, that they would have boat officers to ride the liberty boats into shore and back, which was fine since our exec was pretty strict in a foolish sort of way. Instead of four sections, two starboard and two port, he had two section liberty. So like, I would never go ashore with a Captain Wheat, who was the detachment commander at the same time. But now as a boat officer, my liberty night I'd meet some of the people from the small boat Navy, the ones that had seagoing tugs, net tenders, minesweepers, little ones, and they were a different breed of cat. On my way back from taking the liberty party in, I'd have the coxswain take the launch by one of these boats and I'd have a little social time and then get back to the Fall River. ... When you went in with the empty boat to pick up all these guys loaded with Cuban beer, then it was a little bit different. You had to have a little more control over what was going on. But again, it was enjoyable and we spent a while after that shakedown bit, we spent sometime in the Atlantic Fleet and actually, I guess, it was Navy Day or something, we went to Fall River to, we couldn't get the cruiser all the way to Fall River but they sent part of the crew. The City of Fall River had donated the silver service for the ward room, which is quite a lot of silverware, because we're at least sixty or seventy officers so that means a lot of seats in the ward room, it wasn't two servings, or anything. When I went back to look at the remains of the Fall River with the cruiser sailors, it's just a little bit of the bow, not even as far back as the anchor chains, and I asked the people, "What happened to the wardroom silver service?" Nobody knew. But I'm sure that wasn't deep-sixed anywhere. Then we were ordered to the Pacific Fleet, went through the Panama Canal and our first stop was at Cologne, part of Panama, and we had liberty in the morning, say like from ten o'clock in the morning or 1000 hours to 1400 hours and we had to assign officers to augment the MPs that were there because it was a foreign country and you had to make sure your people weren't getting in trouble. Now, they also had one square block where sex was for sale at different prices in the different sides, you know and that was where one had to be very diplomatic when somebody couldn't do what he had to do in the period of time allotted. You know, these women were working piece work basis, if you will, and there'd be an argument and usually you could get involved in it, and the women would always settle for half because if the sailor got locked up by the local Panamanians, he might never get out of the jail. So that was diplomacy that is not talked about too often but it's for real. Then we finished the trip through the Canal and, which was very interesting by the way, and took off for, first Long Beach, that's where they augmented the strength of the bow so it wouldn't get blown off in a typhoon, and then as we were headed for Japan, it was when the atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and then we were sent to Pearl Harbor to be made into a flagship, and a story that's a little bit off from what I was doing but it's interesting in a way: These target ships came from all over, like the German cruiser, Prince Eigen, which was a beautiful ship. It was one of the targets. But some of the landing craft, not the LSTs, but the, I think they used to be called LCUs, they would carry about four tanks, I guess, and the superstructure was off to the side. It wasn't a symmetrically built ship. They came from Ulithi, which was two thousand miles from Bikini. But the Navy had a program whereby sailors that got in trouble could go to a retraining bit, and some of them were fairly high enlisted and knowledgeable. This one particular case was a former first class quartermaster, which in the Navy is navigation, not supply, who had been busted to seaman second[class], but that beats working on a rock pile in a naval prison. So, he is part of the crew on this LCU. The ensign that was the captain of the LCU had enough points, when the ALNAV [All-Navy message] came out saying, "People with so many points could go home." So he wrote himself orders referring to that and said, "I'll see you." So now this seaman second [class] is the captain of this naval vessel, but he was a quartermaster, he knew what was required. They got orders to go to Bikini so he sails it with a crew of two other seaman second [class] from a couple of thousand miles across the Pacific. He gets there and does everything you're supposed to do, but because there were only three aboard, the Navy rules for beer rations were changed, that they had to keep the crew on the ship. So they'd bring the beer to them. A mine or net tender would go around and distribute the beer to all these little ships. Well, that was fine except, I guess, his crew of two were sort of flakey. The first thing they did was drop the ramp on the front of it and he was the only one that knew how to get it back up. There was a lot of work to do that. When they did it the second time he kicks them off the ship. Now they're on the island and he gets the full beer ration and, I guess, he makes the most of it. But just before the bomb, the first bomb was dropped, they had a sweep of the island to make sure there are no people left there and they find these two guys and what happened when the captain, skipper, I don't know what they called them, kicked them off the ship. Well, now, this is like a type of mutiny, or something, and we're the flagship of the fleet and so, we have to have a boarding party, and that's made up of Marines. So a couple of us go with the full captain and of the admiral staff and go over to this LCU, go aboard, and the guy was pretty well out of it. He's asleep in his bunk and a Marine pokes him with his bayonet and he gets up and at that time the Navy captain takes the thing you know in a formal way of reading it, "Seaman," whatever his name was, "you are hereby relieved of command of naval vessel LCU-11112 and you're under arrest," and he says, "Captain, you can take the LCU and put it where th